One of the rare books that I've read not once, not twice, but three times in all. And looking forward to the fourth. This is a tale of a man in hardship, who chooses decency, humanity, and humor despite all odds. A tale, as the title says, of a gentleman.
“A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman with a desk."
But more than just an interesting story, A Gentleman in Moscow is rife with philosophy rooted in stoicism and the arts.
"Imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness."
Count Rostov, the main character, takes care to see the detail but also to step back, and let the entire history reveal itself. For how else can a modern human remember to be grateful?
“The principle here is that a new generation owes a measure of thanks to every member of the previous generation. Our elders planted fields and fought in wars; they advanced the arts and sciences, and generally made sacrifices on our behalf. So by their efforts, however humble, they have earned a measure of our gratitude and respect.”
The book spans the Stalin era in Russia, a time of great global change and tension. Count Rostov has a recipe for change.
“It is the business of the times to change, Mr. Halecki. And it is the business of gentlemen to change with them.”
Aside from the philosophy and the social themes, Count Rostov is a man who understands that life without the small pleasures is a worthless life. And the easiest way to throw away a life is to worry too much about it passing.
"Quite simply, the Count’s father had believed that while a man should attend closely to life, he should not attend too closely to the clock."
Faced with decades of house arrest, anyone would understand if Count Rostov focused only on surviving. And yet, if we can survive, we can thrive just as well, if only we keep our dreams alive
"For when life makes it impossible for a man to pursue his dreams, he will connive to pursue them anyway."
Often returning to the core precept of the book, the author Amor Towles reminds us to control what we can control, accept what we cannot, and foster the courage to be cheerful against any and all odds.
"The first was that if one did not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them; and the second was Montaigne’s maxim that the surest sign of wisdom is constant cheerfulness."
“Sometimes,” Nina clarified, “everybody tells you something because they are everybody. But why should one listen to everybody? Did everybody write the Odyssey? Did everybody write the Aeneid?” She shook her head then concluded definitively: “The only difference between everybody and nobody is all the shoes.”
A Gentleman in Moscow is a powerful book, it's lessons wrapped in the ideal of a man that can never truly die: that of becoming a gentleman, not by money but by character.